MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Ben Zobrist put a major dent in Minnesota's postseason bid with an RBI double in the eighth inning against struggling All-Star Glen Perkins, and the Kansas City Royals topped the Twins 3-1 on Friday night.
Perkins, hampered by neck and back trouble that led to his removal from the closer role, spoiled a stellar start by Ervin Santana (7-5) with a first-pitch fastball that Zobrist drove off the wall in right-center field. Zobrist then scored when right fielder Torii Hunter fumbled a single by Mike Moustakas, another blemish on an awful second half for Perkins.
The Twins began the day trailing Houston by one game and tied with Los Angeles in the AL wild-card race, and with only two days left to make up ground this was as devastating a defeat as they've had in 2015. The Angels beat Texas, pulling ahead of the Twins, and the Astros played later at Arizona.
Chris Young gave the defending AL champion Royals another reason to consider him for the postseason rotation, allowing an RBI single by Aaron Hicks in the third. The 36-year-old gave up four hits in 6 1-3 innings, retiring 15 out of 16 batters at one point.
In three starts against the Twins this season, Young surrendered just two runs and 11 hits in 18 innings.
Louis Coleman (1-0), Ryan Madson and Wade Davis wrapped up the win, with Davis notching his 16th save in 17 attempts.
Santana didn't join the Twins until July 4, due to the positive test for a performance-enhancing drug that made him ineligible for the postseason, but he gave them quite the push down the stretch while most of the rest of the rotation stumbled to the finish.
Over his last seven turns, Santana logged 50 innings with a 1.62 ERA while the Twins went 5-2.
Santana only had more than one man on base in the third, when Jarrod Dyson hit a leadoff double and eventually scored on a grounder by Eric Hosmer.
Here the Twins were, playing a game that mattered on Oct. 2, a testament to their resiliency under rookie manager Paul Molitor this season following four straight years of mostly bad baseball. The paid attendance of 31,534 wasn't quite a postseason crowd, but there was a palpable energy in the ballpark, with a hearty standing cheer for Santana as he walked off the mound and doffed his cap.
Eight days ago, the Royals became AL Central champions for the first time, clinching their first division title in 30 years and ensuring a drama-free final week. They went into the weekend trying to earn home-field advantage throughout the postseason, and are currently tied with Toronto for the top record in the league.
As manager Ned Yost noted before the game, though, the Royals reached the World Series last year as the road team in each of the first three rounds.
Royals: Three banged-up regulars were held out of the lineup, with CF Lorenzo Cain (knee), DH Kendrys Morales (quadriceps) and C Salvador Perez (thumb) on the bench, but Yost said he wasn't worried. Cain should be ready to play on Saturday, Morales was available to pinch hit and Perez was rested with the afternoon game next.
Twins: Molitor indicated that Santana would likely be summoned on shortened rest to pitch in a tiebreaker game, which he would be eligible for.
Royals: RHP Yordano Ventura (12-8, 4.20 ERA) will start on Saturday. He's 8-1 with a 3.26 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 80 innings over his last 13 turns, and the only loss in that stretch was to the Twins at home on Sept. 7.
Twins: LHP Tommy Milone (9-5, 4.04) will take the mound in the middle game of the series, coming off a critical win at Cleveland on Monday following an 11-day break due to weakness around his shoulder.